This is the theme song of the photographer. No matter which division of the sport you are in, you are bound to arrive at a point in time when you have an idle moment and an overactive brain. And you wonder what happens if…
In the old chemical days what happened was often the loss of the negative or print. The latter was not quite as distressing as the former, but if you had devoted the best part of an hour to testing, printing and processing a 16″ x 20″ print only to spoil it on the last run of the roller…well, you tended to draw upon a rich history of expressive language.
With the advent of digital and the new landscape of electronic commands, every button press is like taking a fork in the road. In my case it is like taking a fork in the road and stabbing it in my eye…it takes a long time to learn moderation, artistic caution, and good taste, and I am sure it will start any day now. Until that time I am going to make sure that everyone thinks I am producing art.
I am brought to this speculation by a recent experience at a dance show. For years I have been trying to get good shots of dancers on stage as they do their performances but have thrashed about with a variety of methods. I’ve experimented with available-light shots, continuous light shots, studio strobe shots, and now speedlight shots. They’ve all had a balance of advantage and disadvantage and in some cases it’s been a finely judged experiment.
The available light work that others do can be stunning…but there are times when the stage lighting in Perth is better suited to ninjas rather than belly dancers. Even if I were to invest in the sort of performance the Nikon D3-4-5 cameras can achieve with fast glass, I would still have stages that have poorly patterned illumination. The colours of the costumes would suffer, and it is the colour that draws me to the art.
Solid lighting – continuous tungsten or LED panels – is a comfort in that it lets the autofocus mechanism of the Fujifilm camera have something to bite on as the action swirls about. But the venues rarely have a structure that would permit placing panels on stands out of sight of the audience, and frequently have no provision for mains power where needed.
The Elinchrom studio strobes have plenty of power, but again are dependent upon A/c electricity lines. Plus they are a major job to transport to and from any venue. My little car just manages to take me and the camera bag.
The final choice, speedlights, has proved the most suitable – particularly now that radio triggers for them are inexpensive and reliable. The cheapness of the receivers even permits me to think about having a multiple-light setup to even out the flashes. The discovery that you can do an entire show on one set of AA lithium batteries also means that one need not be shinnying up a light stand every hundred shots to change batteries.
But TTL dance shooting takes a lot out of the batteries and they get hot quickly – causing the flash units to follow suit and to trigger the thermal sensor cut-out. For this reason I have switched to manual shooting at a lower power ratio. Every notch that I can crank it down means that much less heat and that many more shots.
Fortunately I am getting bolder in my settings for the Fujifilm. I’ve realised that small images – 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 – passed through the latest ACR and Lightroom can have significant noise reduction without looking like a mess, and accordingly the ISO has been bumped from 400 to 800, 1600, and now 2400 on a regular basis. And the flash power has come down. I don’t know yet what the ISO limit is for this class of work with the Fujifilm X-Pro1, but will continue to press it upwards by one notch at each show. The purchase of a new Lightroom product seems to have increased my capacity for this sort of post-production as well.
I have yet to make use of the custom programs but that is because I tend to forget what they are for. I did use the idea when I shot Nikon, but then I could identify them in the menu with written titles….not that they ever made all that much difference. But I did press the button…